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Author Archives: parkerdell

What I’m Reading: Autoboyography

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What I’m Reading: Autoboyography

Books about writing books are like finding fresh Mary Sue tracks in the sand. There’s a fine line between “write what you know” and “write what everyone who likes books knows”. Christina Lauren’s Autoboyography bounds twenty kilometres over that line, and there was no way on this Earth I was going to pick it up and read it.

If you do not read this book, you are making a grave and unforgivable mistake.

Yes, it’s a book called Autoboyography, which is about writing a book called Autoboyography. But. It also manages to bring to a conclusion one of the most emotionally complicated dilemmas I have ever encountered. I remember being two thirds of the way through, seeing how few pages I had left and thinking: how on Earth are we going to get ourselves out of this mess in time?

Set in a high school in Utah, Autoboyography follows non-Mormon Tanner as he falls for the bishop’s son, Sebastian. Sebastian is religious, takes solace in prayer, loves his family, loves his Church, is excited about his mission… and Tanner’s crush could destroy all of it in an instant.

Unfortunately for them both, Tanner has been tasked with writing a novel in a semester, and Sebastian is the only thing that brings him inspiration. Turning in the novel for a grade would mean exposing them both.

Autoboyography explores the ways that romantic, familial and platonic love can both harm and heal, and how they can often do both at once. The tale Lauren weaves is utterly heart-wrenching, and as a reader I felt every impossible choice that Tanner was forced to make deep in my chest. Love can look a lot like madness, and often Tanner finds himself on the brink of wreaking untold chaos in the life of someone he supposedly cares about.

The one problem, however, with writing a book called Autoboyography about the writing of a book called Autoboyography, is that you wish the second book was the one you had in your hands. You wish this book was written by a gay man rather than two straight women. Unlike Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which treads respectfully, Christina Lauren left me feeling cheated. Which is a shame, because I personally enjoyed Autoboyography a lot more.

I firmly believe that LGBT characters and stories should not be off-limits to straight cis authors. However, I do think that more room needs to be made for LGBT storytellers. (On an unrelated aside, I will be launching The Heart-Seed in November.)

Let then this novel be a call to arms. Read Autoboyography. Use Tanner’s story to fuel your novel. Write, write, write.

Buy it here.

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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

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What I’m Reading: They Both Die at the End

A lot of LGBT readers have a mountain to climb when summoning the courage to pick up a new book- a mountain of dead gays. The Bury Your Gays trope has its origins in lesbian pulp fiction, but persists across the entire LGBT spectrum to this day, with Out magazine reporting 62 lesbian and bi WLW killed onscreen in just two years.

I would therefore forgive people for hesitating before picking up Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End. But only briefly.

The premise is this: on the day a person dies, they get a telephone call from Deathcast letting them know- this is it. Mateo and Rufus, both strangers, have had their call, and now they need a Last Friend to make their final day special.

It goes without saying that the book isn’t a laugh a minute. But Silvera conveys a believable optimism- that it is possible for the right person to change your life in a single day. I must admit to not liking either of the protagonists at first. Mateo is weak, frozen by indecision, and terrified of the death that the front cover deems inevitable. Rufus is selfish and reckless, and his first scene is shocking and repulsive.

However, they redeem themselves- or rather, each other. Over the course of the book, we get to learn more about each boy through the other’s eyes, as well as how the world they live in is shaped by the fact that everyone is aware of their impending death.

Although one character is gay and the other bi, this goes beyond merely tackling LGBT concepts. Yes, Silvera made the decision to meet the Bury Your Gays trope head-on, but the key themes are death and isolation rather than either character’s sexuality. It pains me that non-MLM readers might overlook this book on account of it being “gay”, when actually it has a lot to say to anyone who has been touched by terminal illness or loss.

Both boys are already familiar with death, but that doesn’t stop them from needing to grieve for themselves. They muse on the afterlife while facing the impossible challenge of living their entire lives in a single day.

This book is clever, but not pretentious- its concepts are universal, presented from the perspectives of two teenage boys who know no more about death than any of the rest of us. Therein lies Silvera’s genius- none of us have either the time or the answers. We are Mateo and Rufus, and we aren’t going to make it out alive.

This book is far more uplifting and inspiring than I ever could have prepared myself for. There’s no getting away from the fact that They Both Die at the End– but so do we all.

What I’m Reading: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

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What I’m Reading: Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

When I was a child, I was told if I wanted to watch the film, I had to read the book first. And while I now see this as my mother’s literary pretentiousness, it’s something I now enjoy- and so, upon the release of Love, Simon, I bought myself a copy of Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. 

It’s a comfortable read, told from 17-year-old Simon’s slightly unreliable perspective. Albertalli has succeeded in making a realistically flawed main character who also succeeds in being likeable- Simon is both naïve and nosy, but neither of these things actually caused me to dislike the character. 

It features a diverse range of supporting characters, which betrays just how much time and effort Albertalli put into researching the book. As a straight woman, she took some criticism for writing a book centred on the coming-out of a gay teenager. However, if the LGBT community declares these topics off-limits to straight authors, we can hardly complain about a lack of diversity. While it is true that we need more LGBT authors, there is no reason why a dedicated author like Albertalli cannot produce authentic stories. 

Becky Albertalli spoke to a wide range of young LGBT people, and wove some of their experiences into Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda. As a result, the book was littered with moments and feelings that I recalled from my own late teens. Readers with varying orientations will find parts of themselves in the fine details of this story, which encapsulates the tumult of negotiating teenage friendships and crushes. 

People who have seen the film should be aware that the book differs greatly, often in key ways. Most remarkable (without being a spoiler) is the difference in Martin’s character, as the book takes a lot longer to look at his motives, and as a result he ends up, while still not likeable, far more fleshed-out. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone who wanted to read more about Leah, especially as she is the protagonist of Albertalli’s sequel, Leah on the Offbeat. 

Although the book was richly emotional, and I found myself crying at points, the overall tone was light, and an ideal read for anyone looking for an escape from the stress of the everyday. 

Click below to buy your copy.

Good things come to those who…

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I am delaying my book launch. I don’t feel guilty, or sad- I’m doing it for some very good reasons.

Getting my book “finished” has been an eye-opening experience. It’s gone from being a scrawl in an 80p notebook to a fully-illustrated story. Suddenly it seems like it’s actually worth something, and I want to do it justice.

I always knew The Heart-Seed was a story that I loved and was genuinely proud of. Back then, however, it only belonged to me. I was the only person who had ever read it. However, now that it’s Alma’s as well, I feel like I owe her something in making sure people actually see the beautiful thing we made together.

Now, I don’t know the first thing about marketing. But my brother does. He’s been an incredible help- from teaching me about the Amazon affiliates program to the nuance of placing Facebook ads.

I didn’t show The Heart-Seed to anyone for two years because it was private. I had written it from the heart- it shows- and I was a little afraid of baring myself to the world like that.

I’ve never been one to post my blog or my art to Facebook. I don’t like to be seen to be asking for attention. I don’t really have a self-publicising bone in my body.

99% of books make a loss, and I was perfectly happy to make a loss if it meant never having to speak about myself or my book.

But this isn’t just my book any more. It’s Alma’s and it’s Raf’s. I may not have faith in myself but I have faith in them.

I had often heard the phrase “It takes a village”, but I never understood it until now. Sharing my book hasn’t just allowed me to show off- it’s meant I get an outside perspective. It’s motivated me to do much-needed edits and means I now have something that looks an awful lot like a finished product.

But without me taking this extra time, it won’t actually be finished. So I’m taking the time out to finish The Heart-Seed, because that’s what we all deserve.

Questions

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“You’re very young,” she said, her frail hands on my shoulders as she scrutinised me.

“Twenty-six,” I said. “With a young face.”

She laughed.

“You’ve heard that before!” After a pause, “But still, very young.”

“Am I?” I asked.

“Most people are a lot older than you when they start. What made you want to convert?”

“I don’t know,” I said, honest for almost the first time. “It’s just been a question for over half my life.”

I was around ten years old, with a stomach bug so bad it had made my gums bleed. A doctor gave me a book called, I think, I Am David, about a small boy who is helped to escape from a concentration camp. He has lived there for as long as he can recall.

The book itself was twee, and I hated it, but I was told I should read it. David is not Jewish, but prays to “the god of green pastures” that he has overheard other prisoners pray to.

The fact David got a choice stuck with me. His faith, unlike mine, was actually his.

I was a precocious child, a prodigy, so I was told. So I felt my place in the world was to find answers, and before I could find answers, I needed to ask questions.

So naturally I started with the biggest question I could think of- the Universe.

I was a lonely child. Not just an only one- a lonely one. When I asked for amusement, I was told that “only boring people get bored”.

I could lie. I could say that I was not alone, that I was with the Omnipresent. But I was alone, and I was lonely, and I was bored. My parents didn’t really like games.

I had a lot of theories. Death, I decided, would be just your final moment, stretched out into eternity. So your final judgement would be your own mind in that moment. Another time I would decide that the Omnipresent was not a spirit, but actually was the material of the Universe- all that is, was and will be.
If I am young now, what was I then?

Philosophy, when it meant reading other people’s theories, was dry. I liked Nietzsche, but only for the exclamation marks.

Despite being a grot who hated church and reverence and pitied those poor wretches who got forced into choir and altar service, I found that religion was something of a specialist subject of mine.

I was angry and a teenager and determined to find myself in the story of everything.

Maybe I could have gone looking for myself outside of scripture. But that never made sense to me. If this is a gift from the divine, why should it belong to someone else but not to me? Am I not also made in the divine image?

I was still not a great reader, but I was stubborn.

Even that isn’t the answer. Teenage angst and emptiness could only take me so far, the same for childhood loneliness. As an adult, the narrative of exile and return, the long days in the wilderness, those spoke to me. The rainbow- a symbol of the promise made to Noah, and repeated to me on my toughest days.

A question was asked a thousand times, and the answer came together like painting-by-numbers. Not all at once, but bit by bit, and the more I looked it, the more I thought I could make sense of it.

I am converting to Judaism. It will take around eighteen months. I think people told me that thinking it would shock me, but I’m trans- eighteen months is nothing.

So I am now undergoing two transitions side by side. I know it will be stressful- but I don’t feel I had any other choice.

_______

This blog post was deleted several times and rewritten from scratch, occasionally with very cold fingers.

Please reblog or buy me a coffee as I am in great need of support right now.

Let’s do “Get Help”

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Cw: eating disorders, self injury

This morning, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, trying to find a position in which I couldn’t feel the wet suck of my shoulder joints being tugged apart. It’s been getting worse for a while now. Three dislocations in the last six weeks.

I should get help.

Other people say, “bad joints? Just wait until you get to my age!” I have suffered with these dislocations for the past decade. Or, “I didn’t think you could be too flexible!” At night, Sunshine can’t tell what part of me he is holding- my elbows bend backwards.

But I know there is no point in me getting help. Because I got help ten years ago, and I did my physio and practiced my exercises and I built up muscle around my shoulder joints until they no longer threatened to fall apart.

When I started going over on my ankles in the shower, I gave up wearing boots. When my knees threatened to buckle at pedestrian crossings, I bought resistance bands and started building up the strength in them, just as I had for my shoulders. I bought wrist supports so that I could do pressups without hurting myself.

I was a good patient. I helped myself.
So what changed?

A year and a half ago, I stopped going to karate because I was getting anxiety attacks nearly every session. When I stopped going to karate, I felt I no longer deserved to eat. My caloric intake at most meals was multiples of 6- the calorie content of a single unsalted peanut.

I faced down an eating disorder relapse with just one thought in my mind- I cannot afford to get sick right now.

If I got sick, I might not be considered to be “managing my mental health appropriately”. And if I wasn’t “managing my mental health appropriately”, I would likely have any referral to surgery refused.

Too dysphoric to get treatment.

But I needed to get better. So I got therapy. I got therapy and told them not to contact my GP. I learned which behaviours were helping me and which ones were hurting me. As I had with physio, I did my exercises. I relearnt how to eat, how to cope.

Everything became about coping. Not getting better. Just coping. Getting back to karate was never an option.

Coping means cutting off more and more of yourself to survive. Becoming less yourself until there’s nothing left to cut away. I used to wonder what I would do once I reached breaking point. Now I know. You break. Into smaller and smaller pieces.

I learned to eat again. I was at a healthy weight, and I lost a stone I still haven’t got back, but I didn’t lose another, and that was a victory.

But there was less of me left for the next time I got ill. I never went back to exercising, and my muscles wasted away, no longer holding my shoulders together.

Xmas was difficult- the scar on my arm still hasn’t faded. Sunshine’s family insist on muddling me with another trans person in the family. We look nothing alike- but we both have c*nts, so we both get called “she” and each other’s names.

“C*nt!” I shout through my tears. “That’s all they see. I have a c*nt, so I’m a c*nt to them.”

I hadn’t noticed the blood staining my sleeve yet, from where I ran out of places to run and my fight-or-flight mechanism turned inwards.

As I lay on the floor, ribs aching from binding, packer sitting uncomfortably in my boxers, I remembered how much of myself I have cut away so that these people treat me with a minimal level of respect. And now they’ve failed to do so. I cracked a rib last year- I threw up in a binder. I did that, and a thousand other stupid painful things, to get dehumanised at a fucking Boxing Day buffet.

They will never talk about it. They do not want to hear how I feel. It is not a subject for polite conversation.

When people show you they’re not willing to listen to how much they hurt you, you start to look for ways to get the point across that they can’t ignore as easily.

It’s not just that I’m too tired to do my exercises- I am. There hasn’t been a day in two months where I’ve woken up and not felt ill. But even the condescending, disbelieving sympathy I get for having bad joints is better than the tight-lipped disgust I face when I admit I’m unhappy.

When I first started mixing with other trans people, it surprised me just how many were disabled. It no longer surprises me. Because part of being trans means almost deliberately neglecting your physical health- for three reasons. One- to sustain your mental health; to get enough rest and keep yourself happy. Two- because your medical appointments are every four fuckening weeks and you just feel like a burden going “oh also my arms keep falling out” like it’s no big deal, because at this point it has become no big deal to you.

Three- because the fear that surgery will be cancelled is real. It happened to two people I know by name. I have to pretend that everything is fine because if I don’t, things will get an awful lot worse.

What I have chronicled here is a long, slow, inevitable descent. One that could have been halted at any point if I had felt able to get help.

So, promise me: if you’re sick, and you can get help- get help. Some of us can’t.

Get Over It

This blog is about blood, cause it’s part of a normal life for a lot of people and deserves to be talked about. Don’t like, don’t read.

Menstruation is fucking tough. Full stop. And being gender non-conforming in any way just makes it worse.

It’s really hard to talk about without just being straight-up brutal. Because, unfortunately, the experience is often just straight-up brutal. Blood. Pain. Emotions that feel like they are not your own. Bad skin. Skin that makes “bad skin” seem good.

The stink. Stupid jokes from stupid boys in high school. Getting caught without a pad, making do with a wodge of harsh tissue paper.
The raucous cacophony of a pad being unwrapped in a public bathroom.

Despite the fact that around half the population go through this for a week a month for four decades of their lives, I am still gripped by a profound sense of shame when I talk about menstruation- even in these delicate terms.

That is the baseline. Now imagine that shame multiplied by the fact that every leaflet, every online guide you will ever read uses terms like “woman” and “female”, words you have never felt any affinity for. You realise that you are an aberration, with no right to exist.

Let’s face it, menstruation brings with it a state of emotional fragility. It just does. Last time I had a period, someone showed me a picture of a puppy and I cried because I couldn’t pet it.

On top of everything else, a menstruating person has an even tougher choice than usual in the bathroom department. You might have seen the hashtag We Just Need To Pee, but the hashtag I Need A Menstrual Hygiene Bin But I Have Facial Hair never really caught on.

If you’re menstruating, you can’t just hold it. I have an eight hour work day and need to change menstrual products every 4 to 6. Leave it longer than 8 and tampon users are at risk of (potentially fatal) toxic shock syndrome.

Yes, they could use pads. But men’s underwear doesn’t allow the use of pads, which means slipping a pair of women’s underneath.

There is a third way. It’s eco-friendly and quiet and clean and safe and cheap. And painful and awkward and triggering. It’s a menstrual cup. The benefits of menstrual cups do, for me, outweigh the downsides as without a bin at work, I can’t dispose of anything that can’t be flushed- and in case you didn’t know, pads and tampons cannot be flushed.

However. We need to destroy the shame around bleeding, for everyone’s sake. It’s a common experience for so many people, and yet I have seen actual disgust on cashiers’ faces for me daring to buy two boxes of tampons and not even having the decency to double bag them.

It hurts kids, too. Precocious puberty is a real issue, and telling 8 year olds that they’re “becoming a woman” is, uh, super fucked up. You’re telling an 8 year old that their childhood is over. Think Cersei and Sansa.

Give them facts. Don’t hide it under pretty words so we can pretend bleeding, occasionally unbearably painfully, is beautiful- just so you can pretend it’s a feminine thing, rather than just a biological function that serves a practical purpose.

Some people bleed. Get the fuck over it.